Fresh off a successful run of tour dates through Southern Ontario and Quebec, Saint John folk noir band Penny Blacks will be giving fans a hint of what’s to come from the group’s next studio effort when they perform at the Saint John Theatre Company on Saturday evening.
Founding member Jason Ogden says the group had hoped to have its latest release done in time for both their recent jaunt through Central Canada as well as the show on Saturday, fate conspired against them.
It doesn’t mean the group isn’t excited to share its new music with the world, however.
“We’ve scaled things back to being a five-piece band with this upcoming album,” Ogden says, acknowledging the fact that at one point in time, the ranks of Penny Blacks had swelled to eight members.
“Musically speaking, the new record is a little more complex than your average folk album, but at the same time, it is the most straight-ahead, stripped down album we’ve done. We wanted the vibe and energy of these songs to come through. It’s not a technically perfect record, but there is a grittiness and character to the album that we find is exciting.”
A veteran of numerous Saint John-area punk bands including NFA and Hospital Grade, Ogden says that Penny Blacks originally came together as a solo endeavour in 2007 after he found himself writing folk-inspired songs that did not fit the template of his other bands.
“It was me and an acoustic guitar. I approached a local promoter and asked that should she need someone to open shows to keep me in mind.”
It didn’t take long before Ogden’s solo outlet began attracting the attention of musicians throughout the city, many of whom, to Ogden’s delight, expressed interest at backing him up.
“I began meeting people outside of my ‘normal’ musical spectrum at the time,” he says. “It was [Penny Blacks’ drummer] Clinton [Charlton] that was among the first to tell me he was liking what he heard. From there, the band’s ranks expanded; I picked up a drummer and a cellist, among other band members and the songs started taking on a life of their own. Logistically speaking, it was tough to keep an eight-piece band going, but it was still an amazing opportunity to stand in the middle of all these amazing musicians and hear music you’ve written interpreted through their eyes and ears.”
2011 brought two releases from the group: The five-song Gold Standards EP along with their full-length debut, Harbour.
As momentum and interest in the band grew across the region, Ogden ended up relocating, for work purposes, to Toronto at the end of 2012. The Penny Blacks name was kept alive, but Ogden was left to largely go it alone throughout the various venues of Southern Ontario while the remainder of the group stayed in New Brunswick.
The geographic divide that came between the group didn’t slow down their creative streak, however. In 2013, the band released the Silver Screen EP, followed by the five-track Moleskine Weather release, which Ogden made without the band, last fall.
“Being a musician in Toronto was a bit of a weird dichotomy,” Ogden says, reflecting on the approximate three years he spent in Canada’s largest metropolitan centre. “In one sense, I was a small fish in a very big sea, but at the same token, there were so many other cities within a couple of hours’ drive that I was able to perform more frequently than I could at home in Saint John.
“If you’re an artist or musician that moves to a big city in the hopes of ‘making it,’ I could see it being a discouraging place to be. As it was though, I was just happy to be turning a few heads and reaching some new ears every once in a while. I never performed a show with anything in the way of expectations.”
What: Penny Blacks with special guest Brent Mason
When: Saturday Nov. 5, 8 p.m.
Where: Saint John Theatre Company, 112 Princess St., Saint John
Tickets are $15. Advance tickets are available online at www.saintjohntheatrecompany.com and via phone 1-888-311-9090